Terpenes: The Molecules Behind the Magic

Terpenes: The Molecules Behind the Magic

By: ​Ben Cassiday co-founder and CTO of True Terpenes

For cannabis enthusiasts, sharing and comparing favorite strains is nearly as central to enjoying the lifestyle as discovering a new path to an idyllic cognitive or physical high. Many know their favorite strain by its colorful name, a preferred grower and/or simple terms like indica or sativa, but few understand the true science behind what gives life to the pure magic cannabis can deliver. The answer always has been and probably forever will be pure, undiluted terpenes.

What Are Terpenes?

To put it as simply as possible, terpenes are the essential oils produced by plants. These oils are the chemical foundation responsible for the unique flavor, scent and effect of each herb, fruit and flower on the planet. Whether realized or not, many thousands of combined terpenes are experienced every single day by every single person. When you smell a flower or tree, your nose is actually registering the unique terpene profile of the plant. To date, over 30,000 unique terpenes have been identified in plants, animals, microbes, and fungi. Not only do these terpenes create aromas and flavors, they have been shown to help carry out necessary biological functions, serving as vitamins, pheromones, hormones and influencers within the immune system. Even though it might sound like terpenes are some confusing biological compound that requires a background in chemistry to fully understand, at their core they can be thought of as natural building blocks. When combined, terpenes produce complex profiles. This is why an herb like lavender smells pleasant, tastes slightly sweet and floral and has a relaxing effect.

What are Terpenes Used For?

Since their discovery, terpenes have been used to enhance the flavor, scent and effect of a wide range of herbs, extracts and food products. In nature, the function of terpenes is to impart a unique bouquet of effects native to the plant they are in. However, technology has taken terpenes to a new level by distilling them into isolated, highly concentrated forms that can be used individually or in conjunction with other terpenes to create brand new profiles. Researchers commonly use terpene isolates in the development of cosmetic products, incense, food flavorings, perfumes, natural medicines and a wide variety of everyday use products. While terpenes are found in many household products, it is important to note that pure, isolated terpenes are highly concentrated. This means that terpenes should never be consumed, applied to the skin or inhaled without first being properly diluted. Failure to do so can come with significant health risks. Understanding terpene isolates is the fastest way to safely unlocking their amazing potential. For instance, certain varietals are more potent than others, meaning that one dilution method cannot be applied to every type of terpene. Achieving balance can be tricky but well worth the R&D.

What Makes Pure Terpenes Better?

From plant to plant, terpenes are essentially created equal. Limonene from a lime is the same as limonene from cannabis, but not all isolates are sold on such terms. A quick Google search will show that there is no shortage of terpene suppliers available online. With this in mind, you are probably asking yourself what makes some terpenes better than others? The simple answer, purity. Like any product that relies on a highly concentrated substance, purity is synonymous with quality. Pure terpenes are most ideal because they are free of additives that can adversely impact the effects of the terpenes and result in a sub-optimal user experience. Terpenes are often diluted with other substances such as MCT, PG or VG in order to create more product and maximize profits. However, when the goal is to deliver superior performance, it is always best to use terpenes that are in their purest possible form. True Terpenes are certified 100% pure.

Cannabis Relies on Terpenes

By now you’ve probably deduced that since it is a plant, terpenes – also known as isoprenoids – indeed provide cannabis with its unique bouquet. Anyone who has taken in the unique aroma of a cannabis plant knows that nothing else in nature has quite the same scent. However, many people still don’t understand that it is the dynamic terpene profile of a given cannabis strain that gives it its unique flavoring and scent. It is why Super Lemon Haze has a pronounced citrus flavor and aroma and Grandaddy Purple features a light and floral essence.

Although less research has been invested towards the study of terpenes in cannabis as opposed to the major cannabinoids found in the plant, terpenes are also responsible for many of the physiological and psychoactive effects that cannabis is widely known for. Below, we have listed some of the major terpene isolates that are found in cannabis along with a handful of their associated “Entourage Effects.”

Limonene​ (Lim o kneen): In Sativa cannabis strains, limonene is a major terpene responsible for both flavor and effects. Found in other sources, such as citrus fruits, this terpene aids in the absorption of other terpenes through the mucous membranes and epidermis (Bhatia & Singh, 1999). In concentrated form, limonene is used to help with both anxiety and depression (Goes, et al., 2013).

Alpha-Pinene​ (Alpha Pine knee nnn): Largely responsible for the odor associated with cannabis strains, a-pinene is also found naturally in pine trees, turpentine and other coniferous plants. The most abundant of all terpene varieties, a-pinene acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and bronchodilator (Esiyok et a., 2004).

Linalool​ (Lin A lool): One of the more interesting terpenes found in cannabis, linalool is noted for its floral scent that is similar to spring flowers, but with spicy notes on the front end. Linalool has become an extremely popular terpene due to its sedative properties and its ability to act as an effective anxiety and stress reliever. This terpene has also been shown to have both analgesic (pain relief) and antiepileptic properties (Esiyok et a., 2004).

Myrcene​ (Meer Seen): The most prevalent of all terpenes, myrcene is found in a wide variety of cannabis strains. In fact, the concentration of myrcene in a cannabis plant determines whether that strain is considered an Indica or Sativa, clearly greatly affecting the effects of each unique strain. Cannabis strains that contain a myrcene concentration of 0.5 percent or less produce an energizing effect, while strains containing over 0.5 percent produce a more sedative effect. In addition to being a major terpene in cannabis plants, myrcene is found in hops, lemongrass, citrus fruits and thyme, making this terpene one of the most popular in uses related to aromatherapy.

Terpinolene​ (Ter Pin o lean): Studies have shown that, when inhaled, terpinolene produces a sedative effect on the user (Ito & Ito, 2013). In addition to this psychoactive result, this terpene has been shown to exhibit potential anticancer and antioxidant effects (Lv, et al., 2015) leading some researchersto believe that this terpene could become a valuable medicinal tool in the near future.

Geraniol​ (Ger ayn e ol): A terpene that is also found in geraniums, geraniol gives off a rosy scent that has made it an extremely popular extract to use in perfumes. In addition to smelling nice, geraniol has been shown to repel mosquitos (Regnault-Roger, et al., 2012) and presents a potentially protective effect against neuropathy, a type of degenerative disease that affects the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord (Prasad, 2014).

There is so much to learn about terpenes, but we hope this can help you to understand the science behind the magic of terpenes and your favorite cannabis strains!

Ben Cassiday is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of True Terpenes, a wholesale distribution company based out of Portland, OR, that focuses on helping small businesses grow and expand their product lines. The mission of True Terpenes is to help educators, manufacturers and consumers more fully understand and use terpenes to create high quality and dynamic cannabis experiences.Ben will be presenting at Cannacon this February in Seattle.

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